Donegal man sentenced to four and half years for indecent assaults of two young sisters

"We are grateful that we have been heard and believed," - victim tells Democrat

Sue Doherty

Reporter:

Sue Doherty

Donegal man sentenced to four and half years for indecent assaults of two young sisters

Leo McFarland. Photo North West News Pix.

A 58-year-old man has been sentenced to four and half years in prison after admitting to eleven sample counts of indecent assault on two young sisters.

Leo McFarland, of Oak Grove, Millfield, Buncrana appeared before Donegal Circuit Court this morning for sentencing.

The victims, who have waived their right to anonymity, were aged five to seven years and seven to nine years old respectively when the assaults took place.

The former taxi and mini-bus driver had originally denied a total of 53 charges. After one of the victims gave evidence at the opening of the trial earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to eleven sample charges of indecent assault on Kathleen McCallion (née Brady) and Caroline Brady, contrary to Section 10 of the Criminal Law Rape Act 1981 between December 1, 1983 and December 31, 1985.

They lived at Convent Road, Carndonagh where the defendant, who was in his mid-20s, was a neighbour, and they were friends with two of his daughters.

The court heard that he repeatedly assaulted them in his home and in a minibus he parked behind his house.

With both young girls, he "played a game" of asking them to look for sweets or keys in his trouser pockets, which had a hole in them, and they would touch his penis. He gave them sweets afterwards. This "game" escalated over time, and the assaults took place frequently, several times a month, they said.

After they told their mother what happened, she confronted Mr McFarland. The abuse stopped and the families had no further contact with each other.

Impact statements from victims

In their victim impact statements, both women described how they'd grown up "feeling different from other girls, dirty" and wondering why this had happened to them. They blamed themselves and could not trust other people, especially men and often wondered what their lives would have been like if this had not happened to them.

They suffered from panic, anxiety and depression, especially after becoming mothers, when they worried that they would not be able to protect their own children.

Kathleen McCallion described how she struggled to overcome anorexia, alcoholism and suicidal thoughts.

Judge John O'Hagan noted that the maximum sentence was 10 years and said he believed the offences were "in the middle" of the scale of severity.

There were "very many" aggravating factors in the case, he added, including the young age of the girls, the fact that Mr McFarland was an adult, married and the father of their friends, his repeated denials from his initial arrest in 2012, the lateness of his plea last February, and the devastating impact of his actions on his victims.

Judge O'Hagan said, "These girls were aged five  to nine years when these offences took place. That is a very impressionable, formative time for young girls, a time of great innocence for young girls, a time for getting to know life gradually and not have their innocence taken away from them. That was absolutely crushed by Mr McFarland.

"That wonderful, wonderful sense of trust that children of that age have for adults, and faith and admiration for them, was taken advantage of and smashed into the ground like a broken bottle and you can't put the pieces back together again."

Judge O'Hagan said that the defendant's career and life had been destroyed by his actions, and he had to take that into account as mitigating factors.

Probation and psychiatric reports indicated that Mr McFarland had only "limited" insights into the effects of his actions.

Judge O'Hagan sentenced him to four and half years in prison on each of the eleven charges, to be served concurrently.

The sisters both told the Donegal Democrat afterwards that they felt "relieved" at the sentence.

Kathleen McCallion added, "Now it's finally over, after six years going through the court and 30 years hanging over our heads. The judge was very good. We are grateful that we have been heard and believed."